For most people, resting up is a good thing, but for Jodie Williams it’s torture. When The Red Bulletin catches up with her, the Hertfordshire sprinter is suffering from a cold, which has necessitated the only two days off training she can remember taking. Not running, she explains, in no uncertain terms, drives her crazy.
There’s no questioning Williams’ dedication to running the 100m and 200m, and by any measure she’s damn good at it. Aged 20, she’s passed more athletics milestones than most do in a lifetime. By 16, the athlete dubbed Money Legs by school friends held the World Junior 100m title, among many others, and from 2005 until 2010 she was unbeaten, winning 151 races in a row.
Now in the big leagues of the senior competition, Williams made the cut for last year’s World Championships, where she competed against her idols. Now, after physical setbacks, she’s in the form of her life heading towards this month’s Commonwealth Games, well on track for the international success so many have predicted for her.
THE RED BULLETIN: How is 2014 treating you?
Jodie Williams: Other than this horrible cold, I’m in a really good place, actually. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I was in Florida for two months from March until the beginning of May, for training, and I ran a new personal best time in the 200m, my first for four years. I was only two hundredths of a second off my personal best in the 100m, too. They were my season openers – the fastest I’ve ever opened in my life. I’m finally back to where I was before April 2012, when my injuries started.
Injury forced you to miss the London Olympics.
Yeah. I tore my left hamstring, then developed tendonitis, which gave me a knee injury as fluid was draining into it. When the Olympic trials came around, I’d only trained for 10 days or so, which was in no way acceptable.
But you still gave it a go?
That was the only shot I had at what I’d been dreaming of since I was a little kid – an Olympics on home soil. I ended up tearing my hamstring again on track. It was so painful, but it wasn’t the physical pain that made me cry. I was devastated I’d lost my chance at competing at London 2012. Then it’s just been injury after injury. It’s been a weird feeling being injury-free. I’d forgotten what it felt like.
You train for seven hours a day, six days a week, so you must feel as if you’re finally getting the payback for all that work?
It’s an amazing feeling to know everything has all come together at once, as there are so many components: diet, gym work, track training, your mental state. At the moment, I feel like a well-oiled machine.
The only hiccup this year has been a blackout you suffered after a race in February. What happened?
I had my first indoor races for a couple of years, and I was feeling good, I was ready. Then I felt very dizzy before the race. I still managed to compete, but I fainted just after I crossed the finish line. I couldn’t remember the race I’d just run at all. There was no obvious answer for it, and I’ve felt fine since. I think my body did it just to test me.
How much of running a good race is down to mental toughness?
Your mental state affects you hugely in this sport and people always underestimate it. There were times in 2012 when I was physically fine, but I just couldn’t sprint as I was so scared of tearing my hamstring again. Once your mind says, ‘No’, you can’t push past that point, which makes the mental side harder to deal with than pain. You can lose your confidence so quickly, and sprinting is such a confidence sport. But I’m a lot more mentally prepared for this year. I used to be a very confident runner, mentally tough, and I’m back in that place. When you’re on that start line you have to know that you’re going to win and no one else.
The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow begin at the end of July. What are your predictions?
This will be my first Commonwealth Games and that’s exciting. My aim is to at least make the finals. The Commonwealth is a strange competition, as it’s a selection of nations you don’t get in other competitions. We have the potential for all the Jamaicans to turn up, which would make it an incredible race. There’s a big buzz around about the Games already, with it being held here. Plus the UK team is in amazing shape. I predict great things between now and the Rio Olympics.
You’re still young, but do you feel like a fully fledged senior athlete?
There are a few of us coming up together so that makes it easier. I still get star-struck, like in Glasgow, Usain Bolt could turn up, or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the Jamaican Olympic 100m champion. She’s been my idol since I was a girl and I could race her in the finals. It’s still feels strange to go from sitting on your sofa as a little kid watching these athletes on TV, to being in the lane next to them in an international competition. It makes me want to run better, faster. I don’t want to just be there, I want to be a contender.
You certainly sound convincingly tough…
I’m a completely different person outside athletics. In general life, I’m a bit ditsy, I do stupid things and laugh at myself. In my sport I’m very dedicated, so when people watch me on the TV they think I’m serious and focused, and when they meet me and I fall in through the door, I’m not what they expected. That’s typical me, falling over myself, which you wouldn’t think from a person who’s meant to be co-ordinated. I save it all for the track.
Does ‘saving it all for the track’ mean a lot of nights in?
Yep, me, my boyfriend, Junior, and our rabbit, Coco. I’m not out on the town a lot, let’s say. We’ve just finished watching 24, which was so good. We made it through eight series and a movie in a couple of months. Now we’re about to start the new series, so that’s what we’ve been doing with all of our time. Then after that will be Luther.
Do you ever question your decision to devote your life to running and all that requires from you?
I ask myself why I do this fairly often, but I’m never tempted to quit; I can’t stand quitting. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. The hardest thing is the normal life you sacrifice. I love what I do, and when you’re in it you don’t really remember what you’re giving up, then comes the off-season. You’re free, you realise there is a world outside athletics. You can see your friends and socialise. It’s always a crazy month. But then training starts again and I always go back into it 100 per cent. You don’t remember nights in the pub or the pain of training all winter in summer when you’re winning.